Blunt traveling abroad frequently

Monday, June 25, 2007

Since taking office in 2005, the Republican governor already has taken seven international trips.

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Gov. Matt Blunt got to see a lot of the world in the Navy. As governor, he's revisiting a lot of it.

In the past two years, Blunt has traveled to Canada and Mexico; he's gone to Belgium, the Czech Republic, Hungry, Italy and the United Kingdom; he's inspected the war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan; he's gone a second time to Mexico and Italy; and just this past week, Blunt was on business in France.

Since taking office in 2005, the Republican governor already has taken seven international trips, six on official business and one as vacation.

That's more than his predecessor, Democratic Gov. Bob Holden, took during his entire four years in office. And it appears to equal the number of international jaunts Democratic Gov. Mel Carnahan took in his almost eight years in office, from 1993-2000.

Economic development

Although unaware of the comparison to predecessors, Blunt's staff defended his jet-setting pace as part of his emphasis on economic development. Most of Blunt's trips abroad have included meetings with dignitaries and business leaders.

"We're competing in a global economy and have learned that being an active participant in advocating for Missouri jobs and workers has a significant impact on Missouri's economy," said Blunt spokeswoman Jessica Robinson.

Most foreign gubernatorial trips are paid for by the not-forprofit Hawthorn Foundation, which supports business promotion efforts.

Blunt did not take his first international business trip -- to Mexico -- until he had been in office nearly 11 months.

Holden traveled to Mexico within his first six months in office in 2001. He canceled a trip to Israel later that year because of security concerns and traveled abroad just two other times, according to the Missouri State Archives and Associated Press records.

Carnahan went to China during his first year in office in 1993, but took just one other international trip during his first term. After being re-elected in 1996, Carnahan traveled abroad more frequently, taking three business tours to Europe, one to Southeast Asia and one to South America.

Until Blunt, Gov. John Ashcroft was the last Republican in the Governor's Mansion, serving from 1985-1993. Ashcroft appears to have taken slightly fewer international trips than Blunt, although a precise number was difficult to determine from the records.

It was near the end of Ashcroft's term that a significant change occurred in the way gubernatorial travels are documented -- a change that has resulted in less information for the public.

Notification

The Missouri Constitution stipulates that upon the "absence from the state or other disability of the governor," the powers and duties of a governor transfer to the lieutenant governor "for the remainder of the term or until the disability is removed."

As a result of that provision, governors for decades routinely notified the lieutenant governor and secretary of state (as the official record keeper) whenever they left Missouri.

Perhaps the most classic example in the archives is a Jan. 28, 1921, Western Union Telegram sent by Gov. Arthur Hyde to the secretary of state from East St. Louis, Ill., noting he had left Missouri and would return the next day. Sure enough, on Jan. 29, 1921, Hyde sent another telegram -- this time from St. Louis -- noting he had arrived back in the state.

Early in his term, Ashcroft's travel notices specifically listed both his destination and arrival and departure times. He later stopped noting his particular destination.

Governor's travels

Carnahan initially notified the secretary of state every time he traveled outside Missouri, even if he wasn't transferring his gubernatorial powers. His notifications were precise to the minute, even though location was lacking. For example, Carnahan noted he would be outside Missouri from 8:07 a.m. to 6:23 p.m. on June 30, 1994.

But during his final four years in office, Carnahan began supplying travel notices to the secretary of state only when he intended to transfer powers to the lieutenant governor. Holden and Blunt have continued that practice.

One result is that researchers have a much murkier account of a governor's travels. Sometimes, like when Holden traveled to China in 2004 and Blunt went to Mexico earlier this year, governors do not transfer their powers on international trips and so there is no official notice of their absence. Many trips within the United States also remain officially unmentioned.

"In general, historians' preference is for all the information we can get our hands on; the more the better," said Robert Collins, a modern U.S. history professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia.

But travel practices have evolved tremendously through history.

What used to take days by horseback or weeks by ship now takes a few hours by airplane. And except when in remote areas or barred by federal regulations from using wireless phones on planes, travelers can keep in touch at virtually all times with those in their home states.

Collins doesn't consider the decline in official travel documentation a significant historical loss, so long as it doesn't interfere with historians' understanding of the state's politics or a governor's biography.

Blunt's office says its travel notifications follow all the rules and recent precedent. There's no word yet on when Blunt plans another trip.

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